One of the growing concerns of raising a child with autism is what happens when the child reaches the age of 22 and they are no longer eligible to receive special education services through the school system. What will they do to fill their day? Will their parents need to quit work or find caregivers for them? While there are many resources available for children with autism, very few of these resources are extended to adulthood. Have Dreams recognized this void in services for young adults with autism and created a Vocational Program to address this need.
Our year-round Vocational Program focuses on building life skills for each individual so that they can maximize their independence. Have Dreams has partnered with many local area businesses including local public libraries, Abt Electronics, Sugar & Spice Bakery, The Harbour, and AMG Marketing to provide multiple opportunities for students to apply and practice job skills in real life situations. The local public libraries give our interns a chance to re-stock shelves with books, alphabetize books, inventory materials and clean DVDs. At ILOVESWEETS Bakery, the interns assemble boxes to use for shipping. The interns are accompanied by a Job Coach from Have Dreams at each job site.
In addition to actively working at the various job sites, the program also focuses on other independent living skills including fitness, hygiene, current events, laundry, cooking and navigating public transportation. They also work on social skills and setting goals, planning their schedule for the following day, self-management of longer term tasks and establishing and maintaining personal relationships.
For the Boyd Family, whose son Michael has been attending programs at Have Dreams for over 12 years, our new Vocational Program could not have started at a better time. Michael just turned 22 at the end of June, and his parents, Sean and Ann Boyd, had been researching possible alternatives for Michael and were very discouraged with what they discovered. They felt that Michael needed a more structured environment and would not be utilizing his full potential. When Kris Johnsen, Have Dreams Executive Director and Dana Fenceroy, our Program Director met with Sean and Ann last spring to tell them about the new program, they were ecstatic. Michael was very comfortable at Have Dreams. He had been attending the Friday Teen Program for years and also participated in the Dreams to Independence young adult program the past four summers. He loved coming to Have Dreams and had met many friends there, so his parents agreed that the transition would be easy.
Ann said, “We are so grateful for this program. Michael has been very happy at Have Dreams that for us, this was absolutely the right move. Since Michael has been coming to Have Dreams he has grown so much as an individual. He is much more independent, responsible and has a better sense of self-worth. He is enjoying the Vocational Program immensely. He is proud of the work he accomplishes each day and has become very focused on seeing a job through to the end. “
“Not only has this program been good for the interns, but also for the businesses who have employed them. These young adults have so much to offer, and they are such hard workers. They just need to be given a chance to show how they can shine, and the Vocational Program allows each of them to do just that, Ann added.
As for Michael, the transition from high school to the Vocational Program was very smooth. When his mom occasionally slips up and tells him it is time to go to school, he proudly reminds her that he does not attend school anymore, he works at Have Dreams now, with a big smile on his face.